Friday, May 30, 2008

The Cellist of Sarajevo

Quickie Recap: The cellist watches as a shell explodes in a crowd of people waiting to buy bread to fill their empty bellies. He vows to play his cello at the scene every day for 22 days - one concert for every person who perished that day, just one day of the very long and bloody siege in Sarajevo.
Quickie Review: A few pages in, I wasn't overly impressed. It seemed depressing and gray to me, and I wasn't excited to read it. But I'm glad I did. It's not just another story about a war. It's a story about hope, and about inspiration. It's not even really about the cellist, but how his small tribute to the dead actually touched those still among the living. The startling juxtaposition of a sliver of beauty amid so much ugliness and destruction arrests not just the other characters, but the reader as well. Each situation poses a new moral question that is difficult to answer, and in fact impossible to answer until you're there, and you're actually forced to choose.
Quickie recommendation: It's lovely to read about strength in Sarajevo, but there is also a universality to this novel that would speak to everyone and anyone.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Who's Your City?

How the creative economy is making where to live the most important decision of your life, by Richard Florida.

Quickie Recap: People focus on what to do, and whom to do it with, but a third factor - where to do it - should be equally important. This is a geographical self-help book (the first of its kind?) that urges us all to consider where.

Quickie Review: Some time ago, I read a book called The World is Flat, and I really liked it. It makes sense. Who's Your City, on the other hand, says that the world being flat is a bunch of baloney and really, the world is getting spikier, not flatter. This book is all about how likeness attracts likeness, and cities are where the ideas are, because all the idea-makers congregate together and feed off each other. And how sure people like health care and education and affordable housing, but they also see a city's "energy" as being really important in their choice of location. Therefore, it's important to weigh hour options carefully before moving (and to not be afraid to move in the first place). This book had me drawing two conclusions:

1. I really miss Toronto. Toronto is my city.

2. The world is both flat, and spikey. The books contradict each other a bit, but both are valid and true of the world we live in. Where you live does matter, but location\distance just isn't the barrier that it used to be. Just be careful you don't get left behind.

Quickie Recommendation: If you're in the wrong city, this book has the potential to make you miserable.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Mezzanine

Quickie recap: An office worker takes a trip up an escalator, and thinks about stuff.
Quickie review: There is no plot, there is only thought. There is detail. Meticulous detail. And it makes you think about familiar objects in new ways, and sometimes, in old ways. At any rate, it does make you stop. It feels like for a moment, the whole world has stopped. Straws are surprisingly funny; shoelaces are surprisingly complicated. Nothing escapes our protagonist's notice - no idea is too small or unimportant to be shared. The cover of this novel has a quote from the Washington Post Book World stating that it has "bursts of recognition" and that word - recognition - boils it all down for me. That's exactly what it is. You become wonderful by extension reading and sharing in these thoughts, reminding yourself of your own obscure opinions and memories, admitting to yourself that you too have some strange habits, have made some absurd observations. This book is truly original, and there are precious few times in life that anyone can say that.
Quickie Recommendations: Thought-provoking.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

House Rules

A Memoir, by Rachel Sontag.
Quickie Recap: Immediately reminding me of The Glass Castle, this is a first-rate memoir of family dysfunction.
Quickie Review: Sontag tells a slightly different story by reminding us that the physical stuff is not the worst kind of abuse a parent can inflict on their child. It's stomach-tightening stuff to understand how normal the family would have appeared from the outside, and how much suffering it took before anyone noticed that something was wrong. I know that anytime I have written about estranged family and the bizarre dynamics that I've lived through, I get flooded with emails from people who can relate. This book of Sontag's is a testament to our generation, I think. We all have stories to tell. But I think the greatest story is the one she hasn't written yet: that she lived through this crap, and is still surviving.
Quickie Recommendation: Worth sighing over.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Searching for Paradise in Parker, PA

A novel by Kris Radish.
Quickie Recap: Addie and Lucky are depending on an exotic trip to "paradise" to save their marriage, but when an accident prevents them from travelling, the whole thing implodes as their whole neighbourhood watches. Lines are drawn - boys vs girls - and all of suburbia goes to war.
Quickie Review: If you're thinking that this isn't my usual kind of book, you're right. It isn't. It is, however, my mother's kind of book, and so we read this one together. I was prepared to be shocked and appalled, but to smile bravely through it, but the real shock was that I wasn't at all appalled. Yes, it's light reading. Perfect for the hammock. But it's not bad reading. It had me laughing, and nodding in appreciation, and it was exactly the kind of book that was fun to read with someone else so that we became part of the bitching, too. My mother particularly enjoyed the bits that were told from the male perspective - somehow, the fact that men always say something dumb, even when they know it's dumb, rang really true. It's not going to win any literary prizes, but I bet it will get tossed into umpteen beach bags this summer.
Quickie Recommendation: Have some time to kill sitting by the pool, mai tai in hand? This, then, is the perfect solution.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Quickie Recap: Very suddenly, a man goes blind. For no apparent reason, his vision completely fails him, and he has to abandon his car and be helped home by a stranger....who catches his blindness. Pretty soon, an epidemic of blindness is ravaging the city.

Quickie Review: Holy hell. I fully expected this book to be good, in the way that Moby Dick is good, which I hated. You know, the kind of book you should read, but is awful to read. But it wasn't. It was breathtakingly, achingly, toe-curlingly good, and I couldn't believe my luck! I mean, sure the dude has a Nobel Prize, and perhaps that should have been a giveaway, but there isn't any prize that comes close to rewarding an author for such a magnificent effort. I was spellbound from word one. From a purely sociological standpoint, this is a masterpiece. From a more philosophical bent, there just isn't a word out there to express how much this book will make you think, and panic, and mourn, and tear your hair out. And check this: "Do you mean that we have more words than we need? I mean that we have too few feelings." Holy fuck! Is that brilliant or what? Mr. Saramago, I owe you an apology. I could have, should have read this years ago but nobody told me that you were a genius. I am glad to have discovered it, and will be gladder still if anyone takes my advice and buys a copy.

Quickie Recommendation: Please, yes.